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The Booker Prize 2022 #7: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Maali Almeida is dead and has just woken up in the afterlife, though he does not know yet. For how he still believes he is having a weird dream after taking some silly pills. But slowly it dawns on him and as he is taken to see his body, dismembered and drowning in a lake, he has to accept that he won’t wake up from this. Still, he cannot remember how he died or who killed him and he now learns that he has seven moons to find out before he will be asked to move on into the light. The issue is that Maali had many potential enemies. As a war photographer who worked with different parties, he has captured images that could be more than damaging for many powerful people. With the help of ghouls, ghosts and mediums he tries to contact the two people most important in his life, his best friend Jaki and his boyfriend DD, to uncover who murdered him and to make sure his negatives don’t fall into the wrong hands.

What unfolds from here is a wild ride of the book. I could say a lot more about its colourful and adventurous plot, but I don’t want to give too much away. We meet all sorts of character, dead and alive, from corrupt police officers, to corrupt politicians, and corrupt army officials. And through this novel, structured as a fast-paced murder mystery, he get a fascinating and heartrending lesson of Sri Lankan history. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida combines magical realism, historical fiction, crime story, and political commentary into a truly wonderful mix. The heavy topics are made bearable through Karunatilaka’s dark humour. This book could be a tragedy, but it is truly funny. We move between the world of the ghosts and that of the living and jump in time to slowly assemble the puzzle of Maali’s life and death in a way that feels hazy, almost dreamlike. Interestingly, the novel is written in the second person, which has an interesting effect. Despite being directly addressed, it works to distance you as a reader in a way that feels almost cinematic. But the deep emotions and gallows humour shared make sure to keep the reader close and engaged. This ambitious book is wonderfully written and a true joy to read.

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